Once you’ve gazed at the Eiffel Tower, wandered around the Musée du Louvre, and visited the Notre-Dame de Paris, it’s time to hit the water and explore France from a different perspective.
France has some incredible lakes, rivers, and beaches, all of which are fantastic for water sports and worthy of a visit. In this article, we’re going to give you the lowdown on where to paddle board in France so you don’t waste your time on waters that are subpar at best.
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The Ardeche River is one of our favorite paddle boarding spots in France, mainly due to the Pont d’Arc, the river’s natural limestone arch. Surrounding the river are large and staggering gorges that are often referred to as the “European Grand Canyon” and due to the area's incredible natural beauty and sumptuous landscapes, we’d have to agree.
For the most part, the Ardeche River is classified as having waters of class III to class IV, but there are parts of the river that are manageable by beginner paddlers. If you’re an experienced paddler and you’re looking for a waterway that offers weekend-long paddles, then the Ardeche should be your top choice as there are routes with mini and long descents that require one to three days of paddling.
If you’re new to paddle boarding, then stay in the calm waters under the Pont d’Arc. Not only will you be close to the sandy beach if you need a breather, but you’ll also be close to other tourists who can lend a helping hand if you need it at any point.
Lake Annecy is celebrated as Europe’s cleanest lake, and with its mountainous backdrop and its calm waters that are fed by springs, it’s hard not to want to paddle here. In total, the lake is 3.2 km wide and 14.6 km long with numerous access points along its shores that give you the ability to paddle for an hour, or the entire day.
If you’re a beginner paddler, then Lake Annecy is the perfect place to practice your balance and paddling technique because the pristine waters are incredibly calm and still. Once you get the hang of paddling, we suggest paddling close to the shore as you will have impeccable views of the encompassing scenery and wildlife, including a historical castle, the Chateau Ruphy.
Argelès-Sur-Mer is a French Mediterranean coastal town that has a large 7-kilometer white sandy beach, beautiful blue calm waters, and plenty of nearby amenities meaning you can spend the entire day stand-up paddle boarding.
Once you head out on the water, you’ll have incredible uninterrupted views of the Albères Mountains which dominate the backdrop of Argelès-Sur-Mer. And once you’ve finished on the water for the day, you can head into the brightly colored village and explore the narrow maze of streets, the interesting and vibrant markets, and the village’s 14th-century church.
On France’s southwest coast is the seaside resort town of D’arachon which many people more commonly refer to as Arcachon. The town is most famously known for its oyster harvesting, but it is also home to some incredible sand dunes like the Dune du Pyla (Dune of Pilat.)
If you plan on visiting Aracahon, then we recommend that you check out the dunes, and then once you’ve finished there, you can hop on your paddle board and make your way over to the Cabanes Tchanquées. The Cabanes Tchanquées are wooden huts on stilts that were originally used as supervising huts for the oyster farms. Nowadays, however, the public can’t access the huts, but you can paddle up and around them, taking in a beautiful sunset during the hours of the early evening.
A mentionable stretch of beach in the area is the Pyla Sur Mer which has beautiful soft sand, relatively calm waters, and paddle schools like the Pyla Surf School where you can rent SUPs or even participate in lessons.
The Dordogne River, which was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, runs through south-central and southwest France. If you’ve never been on a stand-up paddleboard before, then the river is the perfect place to do so as the waters are not only pristine, making it the cleanest river in the country, but there are also incredibly calm sections with a gentle current.
What draws many people down to the Dordogne River, however, are the views. While paddling along you’ll witness sandy beaches, magnificent châteaux, limestone outcrops, medieval fortresses, an iron suspension bridge, and walnut orchards, just to name a few. What more could you want?
We will just also mention that some parts of the Dordogne River do increase in difficulty, especially in the spring and summer months, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re planning a river paddle and you aren’t confident or experienced. If you do want to paddle along with an experienced guide, or if you’re simply in need of a SUP, then many of the canoe operators in the area also offer SUP rentals and paddle boarding tours.
What better place to paddle board in France than the Loire Valley? The Loire Valley spans 280 kilometers and is found in the middle stretch of the Loire River (Europe’s longest river.) In 2000, UNESCO declared the central part of the Loire River Valley a World Heritage Site, and if that doesn’t entice you to paddle there, then we don’t know what will.
As well as being home to 22 castles, the Loire Valley also has an abundance of vineyards, so If you plan on dabbling in some wine tasting as well as paddle boarding you can kill two birds with one stone in the Loire Valley.
If you didn’t bring your own SUP to the valley, then need not worry, many people visit the valley to participate in water activities, so you’ll find that you can head out on one of the many paddling tours, or you can simply rent a SUP and paddle at your own pace.
Another French coastal city with astonishing and extremely inviting waters is Nice on the French Riviera. Nice is the French Mediterranean coast’s second-largest city, and with that comes various activities to fill your days.
In the summer especially, many locals and tourists flock to the beach in order to escape the heat. In our opinion, one of the best ways to cool down is to paddle out to sea on a stand-up paddle board and take a dip every now and then in the waters below.
In the region of Normandy, you can paddle through history at the site of the D-Day Landing, Omaha Beach, or paddle around the tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If instead, you’re after beautiful views and interesting scenery, then Etretat is another breathtaking paddling destination thanks to its dramatic majestic cliffs and its natural rock arches that you can paddle through. Along with Etretat, you could also head down the Orne River which stretches 180 km before emptying into the English Channel.
A wonderful little paddle boarding spot in the south of France is Porquerolles and Giens. The turquoise waters in the bay of Porquerolles are extremely mellow and once you’ve paddled out you’ll be able to explore rugged natural coves, sandy beaches, and underwater wildlife. We highly recommend packing your snorkel as there is an abundance of marine life that you’ll hate to miss out on.
If paddling gets the better of you and you need a quick break, then head to land and explore the Port-Cros National Park and refuel on some tasty snacks. Over 50 years ago, the French government purchased a vast majority of Porquerolles so a large portion of the island is completely untouched and a flourishing nature reserve.
Salagou Lake was created in 1968 and ever since it has become a hot spot for tourists, mainly because of the iron-rich Earth that glows a beautiful orange-red color. Because of the lake’s extremely calm and relaxing waters, it has become a haven for water sports enthusiasts and if you’re looking for a place to practice SUP yoga, or to improve your paddling skills, then you’ll want to head to Salagou Lake.
Now, we only recommend heading to the Southern French Alps if you are a whitewater SUPer as the waters can range from class II all the way up to an extreme class V. Some popular rivers in the area include the Durance, the Bachelard, and the Ubaye rivers which all have their different whitewater classification ratings.
If you do plan on whitewater SUPing, then it is crucial that you double-check the water conditions before setting up your board as paddling in waters that are above your experience level can be life-threatening. With that being said, however, there are a few areas with flat waters that beginner paddlers could tackle, but again it's important to research beforehand.
Verdon Gorge is a river canyon in southeastern France that was carved out by the Verdon River during the ice age. Today, the gorge is ideal for paddle boarders as not only are the waters extremely calm, but they’re also a striking turquoise color thanks to the surrounding limestone cliff faces.
It does get fairly busy at Verdon Gorge with hikers, kayakers, and rock climbers, but don’t let that you off as the waters are too pretty not to visit.
Yes! Lake Annecy is a fantastic paddle boarding location for even the most beginner paddlers thanks to its beautiful calm open waters that are easily accessible from many launch points along the lake’s shores.
For the most part, you don’t need a license to paddle board in France. With that being said, however, every waterway is different and it’s important that you double-check the rules and regulations for the specific waters you’ll be paddling in before heading out.
France is home to some incredible waters that will appeal to all types of paddlers. Our favorite French paddling destinations include the following:
Yes, you can paddle board on the Loire. The waters in the river are extremely relaxed, slow flowing, and calm that even beginner paddlers will have no trouble finding their balance.
If you plan on paddling in France, then good news! You can take your own paddle board with you. We highly recommend taking an inflatable paddle board as they can easily be deflated and packed down into a small backpack or duffel bag.
By taking an inflatable paddle board, you’ll not only dodge any oversized baggage fees, but you’ll also find that you can paddle in even the most remote locations that other boats can’t access.
For more information on traveling with an inflatable paddle board check out The Ultimate Guide to Traveling With an Inflatable Paddle Board for the inside scope on how to safely and easily transport your SUP to locations all over the world.
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